The dominance of Fox News in Republican politics is hard to overstate. Ask Democrats which TV news or commentary source is their most trusted and about a quarter say CNN with another 16 percent saying MSNBC. Ask independents and about as many say PBS as Fox News, according to January Suffolk University polling.
Ask a Republican? More than half point to Fox News.
That density of interest from Republicans has helped power Fox News’ strong ratings over time. If you’re the most trusted network by more than half of 40 percent of the country that identifies as Republican or Republican-leaning independents — and when your competitors battle for the other 60 percent — that can be hard to beat.
What Fox News covers, then, helps drive political debate. That’s been amplified in recent years as the network’s most vocal fan, President Trump, has gone out of his way to promote its coverage, as he did on Wednesday morning.
This gives us an interesting opportunity. If Fox News is most trusted among Republicans and if its coverage drives political conversation, it follows that the politicians Fox News talks about the most will likely be the ones with the most awareness among Republican viewers. Some of that awareness will stem from straight news coverage of the candidates. Much of it, though, will be commentary from Fox News personalities, some of whom will be targeting the candidates they think pose the biggest threat to Republicans in 2020.
Thanks to the Internet Archive’s database of television closed-captioning data, we can see which 2020 Democratic candidates (and possible candidates) have attracted the most attention on the network.
Below, the percentage of Fox News segments mentioning each candidate since the midterms.
As you might expect, candidates’ 2020 announcements prompt spikes in coverage. Some candidates or possible candidates, though, earned regular mentions on the network even before entering the race (like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). This is because Sanders (and to a lesser extent Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are favorite liberal targets of the network’s commentators.
What stands out on the graph is Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). She received the most single-day density of mentions on Fox News and has been a staple of coverage on the network since her announcement last month.
That stands out more if we look at the average density of mentions of the candidates over the course of 2019. Warren has been the most consistently talked-about candidate, with Harris and Sanders running second and third. No other declared or possible candidate we looked at really compared; the announcements by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) don’t seem to have attracted much attention at all.
Some, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) announced only fairly recently, meaning that they may be a bigger part of the conversation moving forward. It’s also the case that Sanders’s announcement this week will likely boost the attention he earns from the network.
Fox News doesn’t only talk about 2020 candidates, of course. One of the networks’ favorite subjects is not a candidate at all but Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who is often identified by her initials, AOC. She’s received a greater density of mentions on Fox News than any likely/possible 2020 candidate besides Warren.
(A chart of daily mentions that includes Ocasio-Cortez is at the bottom of this article.)
Her popularity on Fox is in part, like Sanders, a function of the politics she espouses. She’s the face of a brand of politics with which many on Fox News disagree strongly — and she’s a politician who pushes back forcefully against her critics on social media. (Republicans don’t need to worry about her running in 2020 — or 2024, for that matter. She won’t be old enough.)
One interesting aspect of this analysis is that Fox News’ discussion of candidates doesn’t entirely map to Trump’s focus. He’s repeatedly attacked Warren, of course, and on Wednesday morning mentioned Sanders in a disparaging way. But Harris hasn’t been a target of Trump’s ire even as she’s been discussed relatively heavily on the president’s favorite network.
She’s seen as one of the most likely Democratic contenders at the moment, so we’ll see how long Trump’s silence about her continues.